By Nick BeJeaux
Baton Rouge has two bar scenes. On one hand, there are the college town bars like Fred’s and Bogie’s that specialize in beer, rum and coke, and shots. On the other you have eclectic cocktail lounges and gastro pubs like Olive or Twist and The Cove serving up craft bloody marys, brews, and martinis. One bartender hopes to unite these scenes to help BR become something new.
Ken Milo, a.k.a. Tucker Johnson or Top Shelf, is a prolific bartender in the downtown BR bar and hotel circuit and has started his own project: getting a local chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild of the ground. Milo says that with the Guild in BR, bartenders will have access to resources that they otherwise would not have.
“Education is our MO,” said Milo. “Our chapter, I hope, will be known for presentation, creative techniques, and all the swagger, but our bartenders will be getting their education and develop their own personalities behind the bar. As the president of the chapter, I’m really going to push on them to be creative, be their own work.”
The USBG is a non-profit organization with 47 chapters across the country that acts as an educational resource for bartenders. Last year, the organization established degree programs where bartenders can attain Spirit Professional, Master Bartender, and a Master Mixologist degrees. All of these programs can be completed online, except the Master Mixologist class, which must be completed at the Tales of the Cocktail Festival.
Milo, who can’t walk down Lafayette street without catching a wave or conversation, had to petition eighty local businesses and individuals for support before asking the USBG to start a chapter in BR.
“I saved that number one slot for Kip Holden [laughs],” he said. “After I ran around and got almost all of the signatures, I went to him and he signed it.”
Along with the support of their names, local businesses are helping the new chapter financially as well.
“When I went around town looking for support from local businesses, I let them know that this is not just for part-time bartenders, but for full-time bartenders and bar managers too,” said Milo. “I asked that, just for this first year, they show their commitment to the movement by paying for the membership of the people they want to involve. I got great feedback on that and a lot of support.”
As Baton Rouge evolves from a college and corporate town to an artsy, trendy, and eclectic capital city, Milo says he sees the same changes moving through the bar scene.
“Our city is kind of split right now; Baton Rouge being the college town it is, you have people who know that kind of environment, those kinds of drinks and that’s what they’re accustomed to,” he said. “Now, we have bartenders that are serving crafted cocktails and more complicated mixology and there’s a clientele for that now. With the Bartender’s Guild, it’s going to unite everybody. It will unite both sides and everyone will be able to keep up with what’s around them.”
Milo also believes that the Guild’s presence will have an impact on BR’s economy as well.
“I feel like that would advance the city – it’s the next step, we need that unity,” he said. “Like with the open house, you’ll see a Hotel Indigo bar next to a Louisiana Sisters Booth, next to a Radio Bar booth, on and on, and you’ll see people mixing up a new drink or sharing a new product. For example, like Jim Bean Fire; it’s like Fireball but it’s cheaper and ten percent stronger. Our events will expose bar owners to products like that. They’ll save money and we’ll save money; everyone will save money.”
The USBG will be holding it’s first open house and membership drive at XO Nightclub on Monday, February 23 from 9 – 12 p.m. and will offer free tastings of cocktails and hor d’oeuvres provided by local business that support the chapter. For those not there for the drinks and food, it offers an opportunity for networking, education, and idea sharing.
For more information on the USBG, visit www.USBG.org.